“The Duchess of Malfi” is a macabre, tragic play, written by the English dramatist John Webster. It begins as a love story, with a Duchess who marries beneath her class, and ends as a nightmarish tragedy as her two brothers exact their revenge, destroying themselves in the process. The play is sometimes ridiculed by modern critics for the excessive violence and horror in its later scenes. But the violence and horror scenes give it the touch it needs to be a revenge tragedy.
The Cardinal and Ferdinand, the brothers of the Duchess, are very much against their sister’s re-marriage. Ferdinand urges her not to marry again. He condemns it because he thinks that it shows a lustful nature. He doesn’t want to give any other reason. But it is obvious that Ferdinand doesn’t want to their inheritance. Ferdinand even warns her by showing his father’s dagger and that he would use it to take revenge for not listening to him.
But the Duchess is a free natured woman. She doesn’t change her decision to re-marry. She marries her steward Antonio though the Duchess assures that she will not marry again. But her brother is right when he thinks that she will go against his will. So, on the Cardinal’s advice, he hires Bosola as a spy.
The undoing of the Duchess starts when Bosola suspects her to be pregnant. He is a very cunning man. He waits for signs that confirm his suspicion. He even gives the Duchess apricots to see if she eats them eagerly as any pregnant woman might. His suspicion is confirmed when the child’s horoscope falls in his hand which was mistakenly dropped by Antonio. He immediately informs the two brothers by sending them a letter. After getting the letter the Duke burst into anger. He couldn’t control his rage. He starts shouting and cursing his sister. He refers to the Duchess, his own sister, as a “notorious strumpet”. He is determined to take revenge just because she didn’t listen to him. He say that he would destroy the Duchess’s palace, her forests,...
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